- Part origin story, part swan song, "Black Widow" is likely the last fans will see of Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- The Disney film currently holds an 82% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 206 reviews.
- Many critics praised the dynamic between Johannsson and Florence Pugh, who exhibit a real sibling chemistry on and off screen.
In scanning through the reviews of "Black Widow," there's one thing that critics agree on: Natasha Romanoff should have gotten a solo adventure years ago.
Part origin story, part swan song, the film explodes with kinetic fight sequences and deftly transitions between spy thriller and family comedy. "Black Widow" is likely the last fans will see of Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The fate of her character was sealed in "Avengers: Endgame," making the stakes of the film seemingly nonexistent and imbuing the film with a bittersweet melancholy.
"Black Widow" takes place in the space between "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Infinity War," giving audiences a solid explanation about the titular hero's whereabouts after going on the run from authorities for violating the Sokovia Accords.
While hiding out, Natasha meets up with her "sister" Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), a fellow member of the Red Room, a top secret Soviet brainwashing and training program. The pair enlist their "parents," two Soviet spies who acted as mother and father to the girls during a mission the '90s, to dismantle the Black Widow program that made them assassins.
The film comes to theaters on Friday after a 14-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it's possible it will capture the highest ticket sales for an opening weekend since the health crisis shuttered theaters for months last year. Advanced ticket sales have been brisk, according to Fandango.
It also will be available for an extra fee via Disney+ Premiere Access.
Disney's "Black Widow" currently holds an 82% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 213 reviews. Here's what critics had to say:
"Black Widow" is "blessed with both muscular action and endearing warmth," wrote Angie Han in her review of the film for Mashable.
"With relatively few superpowers or even super-gadgets in play, the action sequences tend more toward the kind of vehicle chases and hand-to-hand combat you might see from a Mission: Impossible or James Bond movie, as opposed to the more overtly fantastical displays of a Thor or Spider-Man movie," she said. "It's for the better."
Han praised the film's action sequences, but noted that the climatic final action sequence follows a similar path of previous Marvel features. Namely, the presence of an "enormously expensive but disappointingly generic set piece that flattens any nuance or complexity into a simple good-versus-bad framework."
Balancing out the action is the family dynamic between Natasha, her "sister" Yelena and her "parents" played by Rachel Weisz and David Harbour.
"You can just make out the shape of a family if you squint, which of course is the part that hurts enough to make you care deeply about what becomes of all these people and their relationships in the end," Han wrote.
Dana Stevens describes herself as a "theater-loving but generally Marvel-indifferent viewer." So when she says "Black Widow" is "an unexpectedly welcome reminder of why big screens and comic book superheroes go so well together," it holds weight.
Stevens praised the dynamic between Johannsson and Pugh, who exhibit a real sibling chemistry on and off screen.
"Johansson brings new layers of vulnerability and self-doubt to a character who's been given little to do but strike those poses for too long," Stevens wrote. "While Pugh proves that she is the golden girl of casting directors everywhere for a reason: She can nail any emotion from grim determination to childlike neediness and explode off the screen with energy in the action sequences, all while speaking in a Russian accent that, though I can't speak to its precise fidelity to the real thing, is both credible and consistent throughout the movie."
A post-credits stinger features Pugh as Yelena, signaling that the young starlet will return in future installments of the MCU.
"I think I can say for the first time in years about a Marvel property that the next chapter can't come soon enough," Stevens said.
"Black Widow" may be Natasha Romanoff's first solo Marvel movie, but it acts as more of an ensemble piece, Matt Singer writes in his review for ScreenCrush.
"Pugh's Yelena [is] the co-lead and [the] character who undergoes the most significant arc over the course of the story," he said. "Once Harbour and Weisz get added into the mix, they all steal scenes from Johansson, who maintains an air of bemused detachment as the sturdy center of this surreal family reunion."
"'Black Widow' functions less as a showcase for the title character and more as a sneaky introduction for Pugh, who is drolly hilarious as the deeply cynical Yelena," he added.
For those wondering if they should pay for a ticket and head to the theater or shell out $30 to view "Black Widow" at home, Singer reminds readers that Marvel's budget for its theatrical releases are much higher than its Disney+ productions.
"If you've found the action in Marvel's small-screen productions a little lacking, you shouldn't have that problem here," he said. "There's a reason Disney waited all this time to release the film. It clearly was not cheap to produce."
The film's close combat action sequences, emotional undertones and cheeky comedic moments are overshadowed by one question: Why is Marvel telling this story now?
In the wake of "Avengers: Endgame," Disney has released three Marvel shows on its streaming platform. Each has dealt with the aftermath of the Avengers' fight with Thanos and explored what happens next. "Black Widow" backtracks. Its only forward-spinning moment is a post-credit scene that suggests Yelena will take up Natasha's mantle in future MCU adventures.
"Of all the heroes in Marvel's Cinematic Universe, it's Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow who deserves the biggest apology from her creators," Clarisse Loughrey wrote in her review of the film for Independent.
"Over the span of a decade, she's been treated like a cipher to drool over (the actor has herself criticized the hypersextualization of her character in 2010's 'Iron Man 2'), called a monster for not being able to conceive, and then killed off without even the dignity of a funeral in 'Avengers: Endgame,'" she wrote.
"The steel-thighed, emotionally bruised Russian agent, otherwise known as Natasha Romanoff, has been hollowed out like a porcelain doll through year after year of poor screenwriting ... At least now, after all this time, she finally has her own film."
Like many critics, Loughrey's review points out that "Black Widow," while a welcome addition to the MCU, has "come a little too late."
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes and Fandango.